The Panic

I’ve realised a lot of this blog has been dedicated to my rollercoaster style mental health issues.
Here’s another one (sorry).
The past few weeks have thrown another volcano of bad news, anxiety and fear at me and I have to tell you, I did not handle it well at all.
Firstly, I heard the sad news that a lady I liked very much, passed away from metastatic breast cancer. She was a bit of a hero of mine. She dealt with her primary diagnosis with such style, bravery and a resolute attitude that cancer would not get in the way of her doing things that made her happy.
When I was diagnosed, she offered me advice and support. She sent me little care packages that cheered me up and talked me through some of the parts of treatment and surgery I was most frightened of. I’ll be eternally grateful for the compassion and understanding she shared with me.

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Alisa. She was brilliant.

Secondly, I had a couple of pretty awful appointments with the gynaecology/fertility team and I’m no further forward on the ‘will I ever be able to have a baby’ question. I did however, get a pretty stern talking to about my weight. The weight I gained during treatment and haven’t been able to lose because of the combination of tamoxifen, zoladex, gabapentin and antidepressants I’ve been taking since I was diagnosed (my love of cakes might have contributed a little too). I need to lose 2 stone before I can have my ovaries removed to reduce my risk of developing ovarian cancer. ‘Need to’. No suggestions as to how! My problem I guess. So now I’m not only nervous about the cancer side of things, I feel ashamed that I’ve allowed my weight to escalate to this level. Cue, lots of hiding in my room, having unexpected bouts of sobbing.

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Looking happier than I felt.

I also got my letter confirming my pre op assessment and my mastectomy surgery. I don’t know why this got to me so much. I’ve known about it for a few weeks but reading it on that weird beige NHS paper just hurtled me 2 years into my past and the crippling fear of what I’m about to go through grabbed me and shook me by the shoulders.
After the epic screw up with my antidepressants, I’m still waiting for my body to catch up and get back onto an even-ish keel.
The grand finale of stress happened last Tuesday morning. I got up, got showered, dressed and set up for work. I hadn’t driven for more than a few minutes and I began to feel frightened, this was quickly followed by an inability to get a breath. My hands started shaking and I felt out of control. I pulled my car over and had a giant sob/wheeze attack. This was too much for me to style out at work so I turned the car around and went home. I saw my doctor again and he insisted I take a few weeks off to ‘regroup’. I’m not a fan of being off but had to admit, I needed it.
So, in summary, life has been hard. My wonderful, amazing fiance knows that I react to stress by needing a project and agreed to help me completely redecorate our bedroom. I want it to look really different than it did during my treatment. When I get out of hospital, I want a lovely, cosy place to recover. To get ready to move on. Be well. Get happy.
Fuck cancer!

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Going to need entertainment!


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A very cosy bed

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The depression

This is a bit of a tricky subject to talk about but in the interest of giving an accurate account of my cancer experience, I feel I should. So…. Let’s talk a bit about depression and anxiety.

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I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety several times in my adult life. My first experience was after graduation. I had utterly invested myself in my last year of uni and ate, breathed and slept Clothing Design & Manufacture (BSc). Once I’d achieved my dream of getting a 1st Class honours degree, I expected to be thrilled. Well, I was, for about a week. Then the reality of being out of the institution of learning and having to find a job hit me like a tone of bricks. That was when I first experienced a panic attack and bouts of hopelessness, insomnia and anxiety. This lasted around a year or so and after some counselling and finding the right medication, I was set on the right track. I don’t mean to trivialise it, it wasn’t as easy as that but I’m just setting up the background of my previous brush with mental health issues.

Fast forward a few (ahem… maybe more than a few) years and I find myself at the end of active cancer treatment. I should be elated it’s over but instead, I’m right back in that familiar and wholly unwelcome void of panic, fear and overwhelming sadness.

I sometimes think cancer treatment was the easy part. It was very regimented and I always had one drama or another to keep myself occupied. I had one job: to get to the end of treatment.
Once I was there, I didn’t really know what was going to happen next.

I was surrounded by unbelievably positive people who were all fit to burst with excitement for me and all I wanted to do was hide under my duvet and cry.

There’s a lot of talk on the forums about how to move on but I just didn’t feel I could. I decided I needed to talk to my doctor.
He prescribed me with some antidepressants and booked me in for a ‘chat’ with a psychologist.
I’m still undecided in the whole counselling thing. Mine was a bit of a softly spoken, head tilter. I felt immediately awkward in her company and spent my entire first session looking at my hands and giving weird, disjointed, fear filled answers.
She asked me to list my main fears, that’s quite an extensive list but the main ones were:
1. Fear of cancer spreading and becoming incurable and leading to my dying.
2. Fear of recurrence and having to go through primary treatment again.
3. Fear that Steph will not be able to cope with how much I’ve changed and leave me.
4. Fear of never being able to have a family.
5. Fear of my Mum and Sister facing a cancer diagnosis.
6. Fear of any of my chemo buddies getting ill again.

How do you begin to deal with these fears when they the odds haven’t exactly worked in your favour to date?

Being ill has defined me for such a long time, I was genuinely frightened of joining the real world again.
I knew I’d have to find a job eventually, start going on nights out with my friends, do the weekly shop without my Mum taking me.
I was angry at myself for allowing these trivial things worry me but felt as though I was no longer capable of controlling my reactions.

So how am I doing now?
This is a question I’m asked a lot and one that’s usually met with a bit of a white lie as a reply. “Fine thanks” or “not too bad” are the go-to answers. Mostly because ‘how are you’ isn’t usually meant as a question with any depth. It’s meant as a social greeting and the polite thing to do is give a positive response.

The real answer to that question is long and involved. It requires a cup of tea and a piece of cake at the very least.

Its starts by explaining that, like everyone, I have good and bad days. It’s not all doom and gloom. I enjoy seeing my friends, going for walks, watching tv. Every day stuff!
I also have some unexplainably awful days. Sometimes it’s the grief I feel at what’s happened and how much I’ve lost. Other times, I’m overcome with anger. I’ve nicknamed this ‘the why me’s’. Seriously though, why me??!!. I had a good life, I’m well educated, I’m caring, I work hard and I never punch anyone, even when I really want to!

I suppose the idea of an existence based on karma isn’t how life works. It’d be nice though wouldn’t it?

My advice for anyone who has a depressed/anxious loved one:

1. Don’t expect them to ‘cheer up’. They are not just sad.

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2. Ask them to talk to you and don’t try to make them see the bright side. Just allow them the chance to talk things through (or just do the hiccuping cry thing). If they don’t want to talk or cry, just be there with them. It does help.

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3. Try not to be offended if they get angry or upset. Remember, this is a chemical imbalance and is sometimes impossible to control.

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So, the moving on and getting better bit. That’s a tough one. I’ve continued to go to counselling, I also talk to people in the Maggie’s Centre, I keep taking my medication and every day, try to remind myself why I went through all of this. I have a lot to live for and people I love dearly.
I am trying to develop the patience and strength to adapt to this new way of life and not beat myself (or anyone else) up during the tough days.

I hope this hasn’t made any of you feel bad. I am an expert at being ‘Fine thanks’ and, until now, didn’t feel ready to speak out about the link between my physical and mental health. I’m glad I did.

Hey! I think I just moved on a tiny bit xxx